Staying Busy is Key to Daryl Hall’s Soul Salvation

They were two young Philly kids who fell in love with the burgeoning soul music scene exploding in the late ’60s and early ’70s. Their musical education was learned on the streets of the City of Brotherly Love, and their teachers were legendary songwriters like Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff, who lit the flames of this new urban sound.

Daryl Hall and John Oates set out to mix folk acoustic with R&B, and yet their inevitable popularity as soulful pop artists would emerge instead, creating one of the most successful pop duos of all time.

They first scratched the surface of chart notoriety with mid-’70s hits “Sara Smile” and “She’s Gone,” and soon their first number-one hit, “Rich Girl,” in 1976. These would be followed by a string of chart-topping hits in a three-year period from 1981 to 1984 with “Kiss On My List,” “Private Eyes,” “I Can’t Go for That (No Can Do),” “Maneater,” and “Out of Touch.”

They would be among the very first stars of the early MTV video days, which helped to propel their popularity into an estimated 80 million record sales, 29 Top 40 hits, and seven certified platinum albums.

That volume clinched their legacy as one the most successful recording duos in music history, as much as did their enshrinement into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2003, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2014, and this month, the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

Hall has reinvented himself with a very successful web-based program, Live from Daryl’s House, which he started 10 years ago as an alternative to tour travel. Hall has had memorable jam sessions with noted musicians, including the O’Jays, Todd Rundgren, Cheap Trick, Grace Potter, Jose Feliciano, CeeLo Green, and Wyclef Jean.

The pop duo is scheduled to play Ak-Chin Pavilion on Wednesday, September 14.

Recently, Hall, who turns 70 this fall, spoke with New Times about the sound of Philadelphia, what made Hall & Oates click, his newfound passion for collaborations on Live from Daryl’s House, and passing out on the stage of the Celebrity Theatre 11 years ago.

New Times: Your show with John in Phoenix will be your first in about eight years or more. Do you recall your last show here?

Daryl Hall: The last time I played in Phoenix [Celebrity Theatre, July 2005] was actually sort of momentous for me, but not in a good way. It was the first time I realized I had Lyme disease. I sort of half-went down and had to leave the stage. I had to cancel a tour after that. So, not a great memory, but I am going to erase that memory when I come back in a couple weeks.

Looking back, you were predisposed to a life of singing, with both parents being singers and your mother being a vocal coach. How did you develop not just a passion for soul music, but your own style?

I think basically it was because of the way I was brought up. My mother, she was in a band and did a lot of different kinds of music. I sang in church, like most soul singers do, and I lived a good part of that time in an integrated neighborhood.

So, the music I listened to as a really, really little kid was early R&B, gospel, and things like that, and so that was my baby food. That got me to do what I do. It all comes very natural to me.

What beyond the sheer talent of the pivotal pioneers of the soul genre predisposed Philly to becoming the epicenter of soul music?

There is something in the city that is very musically inclined. It’s in the school systems. It’s in the mixture of the population.

It’s also, probably the most Southern of all Northern cities — north of the Mason-Dixon Line. You get a lot of natural flow of Southern music mixed in with several other kinds — gospel music and jazz, and they all come together in Philadelphia.

You had the rare opportunity as you began your career to get guidance from the likes of Smokey Robinson and Gamble & Huff. What advice did they give you?

I think the biggest advice those guys gave me when I was starting out was encouragement and appreciation of what I was. Of realizing that I was one of them, part of that whole soul scene, and treating me that way.

Now as you look back over the past 45-plus years, what truly was the key to the success you shared with John as a duo?

The reason why we came together was because we had a mutual appreciation for the same kind of music, and we come from the same background. I think after that, the thing that keeps us together is that we’re not together. We live separate and very creative lives, very separate physical lives. We’re two individuals with our own agendas. I think that is the secret to our particular success.

The two of you produced several successive hit albums in the early to mid-’80s. Which one do you consider you and Oates at the height of your work together?

There’s a lot songs that resonate to me in very personal ways, because the songs were pretty autobiographical. I will say the H2O album was a very strong album for us, because we produced it ourselves. I would say as a body of work it is about as good as any album I can think of.

Do you ever get tired of playing the hits live, and go into autopilot and just crank the numbers out to appease crowds?

No song that I sing is for autopilot. I wouldn’t be able to. Soul music is anti-autopilot. It’s all about being in the moment and bringing something down and throwing it back out to an audience. And that is never the same thing twice.

It has been 10 years since you released your last album with John. Do you see a time in the future when the two of you will produce another album?

I never say never. But I have absolutely no plans for it. John and I don’t really write together. The truth is we never really did. I wrote most of the songs, and occasionally we would collaborate with the Allen sisters (Sara and Janna) on lyrics. He has his own style. He does what he does, and I do what I do.

Your show, Live from Daryl’s House, which is going into its 10th year in 2017, has become quite popular, and no doubt has given you a new outlet for musical collaborations. What’s next for this unique jam-style series?

Finally, I am going to be doing some touring with Daryl’s House. That will start happening next year. It will be nationwide.

How much has LFDH regenerated you and your passion for performing live music collaborations?

The regenerating thing that happens is where I get the pleasure. It’s creatively stimulating to do a show like mine. Me and our band, we are on our toes constantly. It’s very challenging, and not everybody can do it. And that’s the exciting part.

Many legendary musicians have alluded to being more appreciative of performing live as they have gotten older. Do you feel that characterizes you as well?

I do appreciate it more than when I was younger. I feel it. I’m more in the moment, more able to be in the moment. I think I am more focused than I used to be. I think there’s good things about growing up, and that’s one of them — you get more appreciation out of life.

Daryl Hall and John Oates are scheduled to play Ak-Chin Pavilion on Wednesday, September 14.

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Mark C. Horn
Contact: Mark C. Horn